Final Paper

N.W.A.’s Political and Societal Influence Through Their Lyrics

Niggas With Attitude, or “N.W.A., was an influential rap group that changed the way people thought about rap and hip-hop culture during the late 1980’s. The group officially made music from the late 80’s, 1986, to the early nineties, 1991. The group consisted of musical geniuses, O’Shea Jackson, a.k.a. Ice Cube, Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy- E, and Dr. Dre, a.k.a. Andre Young. These three rappers created a massive musical and political movement through lyrics, personality, and attitude– both towards their work and their fans. N.W.A. first came to reality after the 1980’s rap group Public Enemy, started a rap revolution of their own. Public Enemy were hardcore, gangsta rappers that used smart, controversial lyrics which forced people to become more socially aware of issues that plagued inner cities. N.W.A. was strongly influenced by Public Enemy’s sound and used it to their advantage. While Public Enemy often wrote more calm and intellectual lyrics, N.W.A. found a more aggressive style of in-your-face, profane lyrics, and this unapologetic style was highly advantageous in their rise to fame. N.W.A.’s inspiration for these lyrics came from the violence and crime that swept inner city areas around the country, and, combining this with their own slightly unique sound, the group created songs and sounds that no one had yet experienced. The blending of these three minds proved to create lyrics that were both intense in language and highly provocative toward listeners, oftentimes glamorizing crime, misogyny and violence. This combination of sound and lyrics created a project that would prove to shape rap into what we know it as today. The powerful lyrics that N.W.A. created in songs like “Fuck Tha Police,” “Express Yourself,” and “Straight Outta Compton” garnered political and societal influence in the late 90’s and helped solidify N.W.A.’s notoriety in the rap world.

N.W.A. emerged from Compton, California where the war on drugs was affecting the lives of inner city kids and families. Eazy-E was the true founder of the group. A former high school dropout and drug dealer, he first used his drug money to co-found the record label company Ruthless Records.  It was there that he recruited both Dr. Dre and Ice Cube to write lyrics for his record label. Eazy-E attempted to give Ice Cube’s lyrics, “Boyz-n-the Hood,” to another group to perform but they did not want the song. Instead, Dre and Ice Cube joined Eazy-E and recorded the song, ultimately creating the new rap group Niggaz With Attitude, or N.W.A.

In the first year, N.W.A. grew from the original three to six men: Dre, Eazy, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, the Arabian Prince, and the D.O.C. They created one album together, N.W.A. and the Posse, which “…largely went ignored upon its 1987 release.”[1] N.W.A. soon gained another member, MC Ren, to change up their sound. This is when they adopted many of the sounds utilized by rappers Public Enemy while combining it with their violent, controversial and loud lyrical ideas. In 1989 they released their second album, Straight Outta Compton and the aggressive, shocking lyrics it introduced made it a massive hit, despite not being played on the radio or MTV. The intense lyrics they employed made them notorious, and when they came out with the song “Fuck tha Police,” the group’s parent company, Priority Records, received a letter from the FBI warning them to be careful about what they were promoting. “Fuck Tha Police” provoked crowds and created an intense atmosphere that was associated with the band. This, in turn, brought them great publicity.[2] Riot-inducing lyrics such as “Fuck the police coming straight from the underground, / A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown, And not the other color so police think, they have the authority to kill a minority…” intentionally forced lingering racial issues onto the American public. It forced the American public to think about police brutality and racism, while simultaneously telling the public that violence towards police is the way to solve the problem: “You’d rather see me in the pen, Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo. Beat the police outta shape, And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape, To tape off the scene of the slaughter.” [3] This song was so controversial that N.W.A. was banned from performing it at concerts. Regardless, the song was a huge underground success and helped launch N.W.A.’s social and political influences. Not to be intimidated by conservative politicians and the police, NWA continued to pen lyrics that “…celebrate(d) the violence and hedonism of the criminal life, capturing it all in blunt, harsh language.”[4]

In 1989, Ice Cube left the group due to financial disagreements and royalties. Ice Cube was the political mastermind behind the group, and with his departure, N.W.A.’s “political threat”[5] disappeared. Cube finalized his departure with a song, “No Vaseline,” in 1991 in which he verbally attacked the group and its management With lyrics that attacked the group’s rise to fame and how they forgot their roots, Ice Cube rapped, “White man just rulin’ / The niggas with attitudes, who ya foolin’? / Ya’ll niggas just phony / I put that on my mama and my dead homeys.”[6] After Ice Cube left, there where two years in which Eazy-E, MC Ren, The D.O.C. and Dr. Dre were the remaining  members of N.W.A. During this time, they produced two different albums, 100 Miles and Runnin and Efil4zaggin. Both of these works were filled with overly-aggressive, misogynist lyrics and brash, loud hip hop sounds which were enjoyed primarily, paradoxically, by suburban white teenagers, and even though they were so popular, Dre wanted to leave the group. Once again, N.W.A. argued over what Dr. Dre saw as an unfair record deal. Eventually, Dr. Dre left 1992 and formed Death Row Records with Suge Knight. Dre and Eazy-E became extremely irritated with each other and they often had very public disagreements. Eazy-E was soon diagnosed with AIDS after the group broke up, and before dying in 1995, he ended up making amends with Dre and Ice Cube. Subsequently, N.W.A.’s gangsta rap proved to influence almost all 90’s hip-hop, and artists like Tupac and Biggie Smalls were heavily influenced by the group as they rose to fame. N.W.A. “…completely rewrote the rules of hip-hop for the 90’s,” and their “amoralistic, hedonistic stance temporarily triumphed over the socially conscious, self-awarded hip-hop of Public Enemy.”[7]

The first massive hit that N.W.A. produced was “Straight Outta Compton.” It is known as the first real gangsta rap track ever produced and had a tremendous impact on the hip-hop genre.  The album its produced on, Straight Outta Compton, is an ever present reminder of how inner city black families were both broken apart and severely hindered as a result of the war on drugs. The song itself is about how Compton, CA is their home, and that they do what they have to do to get by. Ice Cube raps about how he deals with people that threaten him or disrespect him. He raps, “When I’m called off, I got a sawed off / Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off / You too, boy, if ya fuck with me / The police are gonna hafta come and get me…”[8] One by one, each of the members featured in this song have something to say about what happens if they are threatened, and what happens when the cops get involved—in other words, the gangster life.  At the time the record was released, the lyrics created a very hostile atmosphere in Compton towards police. Tensions were already high between the two groups, and the songs that N.W.A. produced did not help the police’s cause. For example, Rapper MC Ren talks about how he builds his reputation up in Compton, rapping, “Straight outta Compton, another crazy ass nigga / More punks I smoke, yo, my rep gets bigger”[9] Ren is saying that really the only way to get the respect you needed to thrive in Compton is to demand it through violence. This lyric explicitly and blatantly told mainstream America about the brutal, violent life in the inner city, building on the idea that inner city society in America needed to change. Whether intentionally or not, N.W.A. was making waves in the public’s eye for being so explicitly aggressive about the problems that they faced growing up. Lastly, Eazy-E takes the song in a different direction, rapping about running from both the cops and people who might be looking for him. Eazy raps, “Dangerous motherfucker raised in Hell / And if I ever get caught I make bail… But I’m smart, lay low, creep a while / And when I see a punk pass, I smile.”[10] He first compares where he grew up, Compton, to Hell, and then he shouts about how he is constantly on the run, laying low from the cops and people out for him. He shows the audience that relationships with the police the inner cities are not all about respect, and oftentimes, kids in the inner cities of America are forced to hide and run from authorities who might wish them harm. “Straight Outta Compton” was the group’s first massive hit, and its lyrical influence about the struggles of keeping respect- both from other gangsters as well as the police– in order to survive in the streets of Compton, was apparent to everyone who listened.

“Fuck tha Police” was inspired by events that happened to the group’s members. Each individual had been harassed by the police. Ice Cube’s reality involved being harassed by police during the late ’80s while N.W.A recorded their major label debut, Straight Outta Compton. The rappers were profiled as gangbangers. They were forced to lie on the sidewalk with their food being slapped out of their hands.[11] According to Ice Cube, the song was written as a revenge tactic. “It was a revenge fantasy . . .I think that’s really what made people feel scared [like] we was really wanting to fight the police, you know? It’s just one of them things where that song was doing a little more than just expressing our anger: It was telling what we would do if you wasn’t a cop, if we could have a fair fight. All these things just scared the shit out of people.”[12] The song made waves in the political world due to its violent lyrics and extreme profanity. At all the tours they played, N.W.A was never allowed to play it, and Ice Cube said that the police would always be on their backs about it, reading laws off at them before their shows began.[13] Finally, at a venue in Detroit, Dre, Cube, and MC Ren decided it was finally time to defy the police and play “Fuck Tha Police” on stage. As the beginning notes to the underground hit began to play, undercover police rushed the stage, chasing them from the venue.  They were eventually lectured about Detroit laws and never paid for the performance, but they had gotten their message out.[14] They were sick of being confined, and they stood up for their right of freedom of speech. They wanted everyone to know that freedom of speech applied to all in America.

The song “Express Yourself,” another release off Straight Outta Compton, was released in March of 1989 and it was unlike anything anyone had previously heard from N.W.A. It had very little profanity or violence, and it spoke volumes about the group’s ability to be versatile.  For example, Dr. Dre rapps about how smoking weed causes brain damage. This message is completely different to what N.W.A. typically preached in other songs. Instead, here, he is telling kids to do what they love and not get caught up in drugs. In the beginning of the music video of the song, there are three slaves working in a field being watched by a plantation owner. They then stand up and run away after one of them is whipped. This visual interpretation to the lyrics of this song expresses the idea that N.W.A. wanted to get across in their song– not to be oppressed just because of where you are from. Do what you want no matter what the consequences because it will make you happy in the end, and trying to be something you are not is not being true to yourself.  Dre raps about how people have to express their emotions and themselves, saying “Forget about the ghetto and rap for the pop charts / Some musicians curse at home / But scared to use profanity when upon the microphone / ” and “Expressing ain’t their subject because they like to follow / The words, the style, the trends . . .”[15] He wants more artists, as well as people in general, to be true to their roots and express themselves not who they think the world wants to see. Overall, “Express Yourself” is about staying true to youself, to not be censored, and to be real. It made people think about what was really important, and it had great influence on these societies.

N.W.A.’s lyrics were part of the key to their massive success. The way that they used lyrics and sounds in songs like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fuck Da Police,” and “Express Yourself,” made them one of the most influential rap groups in history, being hailed as the originators of gangsta rap. The lyrics from their songs heavily influenced the societies in which the grew up in, and this made them an extremely effective force in the fight to eradicate the bad treatment of inner city youth throughout America. N.W.A. were the voice of inner city black kids who wanted to show America what was really happening to this group of people. They also opened the eyes of many white suburbia kids who flocked to their music and felt dangerous listening to it. It was a safe way for them to experience something that they might never experience in their lifetimes.  N.W.A was a band who demanded to be heard, and because of this demand and their lyrics, they became one of the most influential rap groups in history.


[1] Erlewine, “N.W.A. Artist Biography”.

[2] Ingraham, “Straight Outta Compton: How N.W.A Changed the World.”

[3] N.W.A., “Fuck Tha Police”.

[4] Erlewine, “N.W.A. Artist Biography”.

page about the albums that he was featured on in N.W.A. might never expierience  felt dangerois ng to this group of people. Th

[5] Ibid, “N.W.A Artist Boiography”.

[6] Ice Cube, “No Vasciline”.

[7] Ibid, “N.W.A. Artist Biography”.

[8] N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton”.

[9] Ibid, “Straight Outta Compton”.

[10] Ibid, “Straight Outta Compton”.

[11] Geoffery Baker, “Preachers, Gangsters, Prangsters: MC Solaar and Hip-Hop as Overt and Covert Revolt.” 44, no. 2 (2011): 233.

[12] Carter, “The Painful, Long, And Lasting Legacy Of.”

[13] Ibid, “The Painful, Long, And Lasting Legacy Of.”

[14] William Maxwell, “Sampling Authenticity: Rap Music, Postmodernism, and the Ideology of Black Crime.” 1,

[15] N.W.A., “Express Yourself”.

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